• Restaurant website
  • Location: Pearl District
  • Price to feed two (well) for dinner: About $40 (booze extra)

“Don’t you usually have a PRAAAAY FIX-AAAAAY?” I asked the waiter.

He looked puzzled for a minute, then asked, “Do you mean “prix fixe?” he asked, “Yes we do,” and he showed me the prix fixe menu ($20 per person for salad or soup, entree and dessert) while I blushed a bit.

OK, in most places in the US (outside New York and DC), if you ask for the “prix fixe menu,” you’ll just confuse them. “Prefix to what? Do you mean an appetizer?” they’ll ask, with a little eye roll. If you mispronounce it with long aaaaaaas, they just might get it.

Except in Chez Joly, which is the closest thing to a real French bistro I’ve seen in the great Northwest. Sara and I went there for early dinner tonight and we were both impressed. This place serves honest-to-goodness homestyle French cooking, well-done, unpretentious and delicious.

I’d just finished helping out with another Oregon Glass Guild demo at the Museum of Contemporary Craft (this time was Serena Smith, whose Matisse-like glass drawings should be taken VERY seriously, they are stunning) and had promised to meet Sara for afters. Chez Joly is on the same block as the museum, and I’d walked past several times when they were closed, so it was an easy choice.

Sara and I both have spent time in (and love) France, and I’ve just finished Julia Child’s autobiography of her time in France, an added incentive and one reason Chez Joly’s menu was so much fun: It kinda reads like the index to Mastering the Art of French Cooking. All the classics–Coq Au Vin, Boeuf Bourguignon, a variation on Moules Mariniere they call Moules Joly, are there.

I can vouch for the pate, it was delicious and enriched with pistachios, my favorite. It was also served correctly with thin, slightly stale baguette slices, cornichon and dried fruit. Yum. Happy Hour was on–we were there promptly at 5pm on a Saturday–so we got a break on price as well.

I ordered the cut-price Happy Moules, a slightly smaller -than-dinner serving of mussels, mushrooms and tomatoes atop a couple of very happy chunks of French bread. In fact, the goal of Moules Mariniere is to clear out the mussel shells and get to that sauce-soaked bread. Chez Joly’s version didn’t disappoint in that regard. Double yum.

It came with pommes frites (French french fries, delicious). Sara ordered the Salad Nicoise, with fresh, barely seared tuna slices and an entire orchestra of olives. Both were excellent, although I think I got the better deal with the mussels. (And if the happy hour portion was the SMALL serving, it’d take two people to eat the dinner version)

The decor is very French, the waiter Parisian, the water comes in an old wine bottle and the staff knows enough to update the beverages and otherwise stay out of your way, even when you’ve been there for three hours, eaten everything in sight and the only thing left is a little decaf coffee.

It’s a little casual if you’re looking for formal French haute cuisine, but otherwise, this one just made my top ten Portland restaurant list. I will be back.